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FBI praises proposed law that allows use of Rapid DNA

Categories Biometrics News  |  Law Enforcement

FBI Director James Comey met with members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee last week to discuss the FBI’s programs and priorities for the upcoming year.

During the hearing, Comey congratulated Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), for introducing a bill that would allow law enforcement officials to obtain results from Rapid DNA during criminal investigations.

Hatch’s bill, the Rapid DNA Act of 2015, updates current law to allow DNA samples to be processed using Rapid DNA systems located in police booking stations and other approved locations. Rapid DNA instruments have been described as self-contained, fully automated devices that can develop a reference sample profile from a minimally invasive cheek swab and compare the results against existing profiles in less than two hours.

Currently, law enforcement agencies must use both authorized labs and trained personnel in order to have DNA tests conducted. This process takes days rather than hours. The new legislation, if passed, would enable a “very exciting” tool, according to Comey.

Late last year, the FBI announced a plan to accelerate its collection of DNA profiles, including Rapid DNA, for its biometric identification database. The approval of Hatch’s proposed legislation would make it easier for the FBI to collect and analyze DNA on their own, outside of a lab, using portable equipment. Because current forensic DNA analysis in a lab takes quite long, its use is generally limited to high-level felonies like rape and murder. With the advent of Rapid DNA tools however, agencies like the FBI theoretically could have the ability to analyze DNA for other lower-priority crimes.

BiometricUpdate.com recently reported that civil liberties organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are opposed the use of Rapid DNA and private genealogical DNA data obtained without a warrant or court order, in conjunction with the use of DNA familial matches. The EFF believes using Rapid DNA will inevitably lead to false charges and convictions for capital crimes, due to a higher propensity for “false positive” identifications using the technology. Due to these reservations, lawmakers can expect these concerns to be voiced during any debate about the merits of the proposed legislation.

During the hearing called by the Senate committee, Comey also talked about the recent shootings in San Bernardino and the attacks in Paris to demonstrate the diverse threats posed to national security, the economy, and to communities and to underscore the complexity and breadth of the FBI’s mission.

In his statement, Comey also updated committee members on a variety of Bureau priorities, including terrorism and the challenge faced by law enforcement when dealing with terrorists and criminals who use encrypted technology.

Comey further discussed the latest counterintelligence threats facing the United States, including the growing scope of insider threats; the proliferation of cyber-based or cyber-facilitated activity across nearly every national security and criminal area that falls under FBI jurisdiction; and the other egregious criminal threats that the FBI investigates, which include: public corruption, civil rights abuses, health care fraud, violent crime, transnational organized crime, and crimes against children.

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